Murder at Elstow

On March 28, 1918, Katie Morowski came home from school and found her father, Mike, at the kitchen table counting his money. He had recently sold his farm at Colonsay, moving his family to his small shack at Elstow. He’d sold the farm for $1200 and had also organized the sale of their shack in Elstow for $200. His plan was to move his family down to the United States where his brother was living.

Katie helped her father count out the twelve hundred dollars, and as they were doing so, George Stanko came in. He’d worked on their family farm and come with them to Elstow, although he wouldn’t be joining them in their move to the States. He was an imposing man, described as blond and heavy, and was considered part of the family, a second father to the girls; Katie, who was fifteen, Nellie, who was thirteen, and Helen, who was nine. Their mother had left the family about eight years previous.

Mike Morowski finished counting his money and put it in his belt. They had supper together and then Morowski had gone downtown to the pool room. Stanko went out as well a short time later and the girls cleaned up the dishes and went to bed. Katie woke up at about 11:30PM to go to the bathroom. Neither Stanko or her father had returned home yet and she went back to bed and fell asleep.

When Katie woke again, it was to the sounds of yelling in the front room. She went to the bedroom door, but found it locked from the outside. She climbed up on a trunk and looked through a stovepipe hole in the wall. By this point, the yelling had stopped. She saw her father sitting on a chair, head down, taking his boots off. He was acting as if nothing had happened. Stanko stood by him with a hammer in his hand and without warning, struck Morowski in the head with it, causing him to fall forward onto the floor.

He tried to get up, to scramble forward to the front door, but Stanko grabbed him by the hair and hauled him back, throwing him onto the couch and choking him. At this point, the other girls were awake and also looking through the stovepipe, the three of them screaming. Stanko yelled at them to keep quiet or he’d do the same to them. They watched their father gradually grow weaker until he stopped struggling and became still.

Stanko then removed Mike Morowski’s coat and bundled the body into a sack, weighing it down with scrap iron. He loaded it into a sleigh and the girls watched from the bedroom window as he dragged the body to a well a ways from the house and dropped it inside. He then meticulously boarded up the opening. When he came back in he burned their father’s coat in the stove.

The following morning, he brought the girls breakfast but kept them locked in their room until about 1:00PM when he took them to the train station and they boarded a train to Winnipeg. None of the girls spoke much English, and had no way of signaling that they were in danger. He took them to the Savoy Hotel and gave them each some money. Then, he left Katie and Helen with a woman they’d known in Colonsay and took Nellie with him to Prince Albert to get a passport and train tickets to the United States.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – April 9, 1918

It’s unclear if he took Nellie as insurance that the other girls would keep their mouths shut, but if it was, it didn’t work. Katie immediately told the woman looking after them what Stanko had done and when he returned to collect them he was arrested.

Constable Whybrow was immediately sent to Elstow, where, with help from the community, he managed to climb down into the well and retrieve the body of Mike Morowski. Morowski had three cuts on his head, one on the bridge of his nose, one on his cheek and another on his forehead. There was a blue mark on his throat and while his skull was not fractured, his brain was described as badly congested. The coroner believed the cause of death was either the concussion of the brain or that he’d drowned in the well. Water was found in his lungs, which of course could be attributed to drowning, or possibly found its way in from the damage to his throat.

George Stanko was, of course, committed to stand trial for murder, which was held on June 4, 1918 before Justice Elwood. The crown prosecutor was P. E. Mackenzie and Beaton H. Squires was assigned to the defense.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – April 15, 1918

Throughout the proceedings, Stanko sat with a cynical smile on his face. His defense was that Katie had asked him to do it. He said that Morowski was often cruel to the children, abusing them, and that recently he’d been pushing Katie to hurry up and get married to a man living at Floral and she’d been very vexed by it.

All three girls appeared on the stand to tell the story of what they’d seen the night their father was murdered. All of them denied the story that their father had ever abused them or that they’d gone to Stanko for protection. Katie said that while her father had been pushing her to get married and she was vexed, she’d never approached Stanko to kill him.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – June 4, 1918

The motive seemed clear. Stanko wanted the money Morowski had made from selling his farm. The constables who’d arrested him and escorted him back to Saskatchewan testified to Stanko confessing multiple times to the killing.

The jury was only out for fifteen minutes before finding him guilty. He was sentenced to hang on September 4, 1918. As he was being transported to the train station to be taken to Prince Albert jail to await his sentence, he told the officers, “it’s this way. No money, no fun; lots of money, lots of fun. If I’d have had money, I would have lived for many years yet. But a life for a life, I suppose, and I’m not worrying.”

He was hung on September 4th, as sentenced.

The most tragic part of the story is what happened to Mike Morowski’s daughters. Even though Morowski had another daughter, Annie, who was a little older than her sisters and was married and living at Blucher, Saskatchewan, none of the girls were sent to live with her. Katie was sent to work on a farm near Saskatoon and Nellie and Helen were put in a children’s shelter in Saskatoon.

The Saskatoon Daily Star – June 5, 1918

And that is the story of the murder of Mike Morowski.

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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Regina Leader-Post: April 9, 1918, April 10, 1918, April 15, 1918, May 20, 1918, June 3, 1918, June 4, 1918, June 5, 1918, June 6, 1918, June 7, 1918, Sep 3, 1918, Sep 5, 1918

If you’d like to read more historical true crime from Saskatchewan, give these a try:

The Shooting of Peter Champagne

The Murder of Henry Kinakin

The Murder of Kosto Surkin

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